Planning Essentials – make your ‘To Do list’ matter!

With all the productivity tools that technology gives us, we are all ultra-organised, super productive and have all the free time we could wish for – Right?? We have our smartphones, tablets and computers laden with calendar, memo, scheduling, travel timetable, cloud, printing, file sharing, reading and  social app’s – everything is connected and synchronised so we can do anything from anywhere –We’re now organised, productive, and can do anything we want to from wherever we are – sounds great doesn’t it?

Well, most of us know the reality is not quite as funtastic as it sounds. Technology has provided us with some absolutely outstanding tools but unfortunately many people still are stressed, tired, working night and day, and can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel with all the things mounting up on their list of things to do. Why, then are we at this crossroads? All these tools should make things easier but why do we still struggle to make impacts where we want to in our life, business and career?

Why? – Because of the basic’s. We are so caught up on the latest tool that we don’t think about what we really need to do – we don’t know how to plan. In working with clients, the most common need for help is in the area of planning – large organisations needing a Strategic Business plan and implementation plan, or a plan to manage a big change in direction, – an entrepreneur/start-up needing a plan to develop their business, – individuals needing a plan to advance their career or gain a sense of achievement and satisfaction from what they do.

In all these situations everyone has a long list of things they have to do. We all have some form of a ‘To Do list’ filled with all sorts of actions, and we like to think we are productive and achieving something if we can cross a few of those things off the list every day. In general though, we end up working on ‘Stuff’‘Stuff’ is the biggest sucker of time in the world, and ‘Stuff’ typically does not help you achieve your biggest hopes and dreams. We end up working on ‘Stuff’ because we don’t have a plan and don’t know how to prioritise what is important and what is not.

In order to have a plan though, it’s important to have a direction first, – a big goal, an aim, a vision. With a direction/goal/aim/vision you can figure out the steps to take to get there and the actions you need to take. You can figure out how long you think it will take to reach your goal and you can determine the most important actions. There are always unforeseen events that impact what you set out to do, but when you have a clear goal/aim, you can navigate around those to get back on course.

Think about a sailing boat on the sea. The captain doesn’t randomly take the boat out without thinking about where they are going to go. They pick a destination and plot a course to get there. They use navigational tools to help them along the way. A storm may come out of the blue so they alter the course slightly but they are still heading in the direction of their destination. They have a plan and they use the tools available to them to figure out the way and adjust as they need to when faced with external influences they have no control over.

Transform ‘Stuff’ into something that matters – 10 basic planning steps

  1. Decide what you want to achieve – what is your goal, your vision, your passion? This is your destination. Imagine what success looks like when you have achieved that.
  2. Determine the things that are in your favour that will help you reach that goal. What things about you, your surroundings, your background, experiences and influences that will help you reach that goal? These are strengths, so use them.
  3. Determine the things that are not in your favour that could get in the way of reaching that goal. What things about you, your surroundings, your background, experiences and influences that may limit you in reaching that goal?
  4. Look for common themes in all the things you identify, that are, and are not, in your favour – put an action statement around those themes. These action statements for common themes are your objectives – create SMART objectives (Specific, Measured, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound) If you are contemplating a new business start-up, many  items may come up around funding, your objective statement could look like – ‘Attain €20k for funding start-up costs by Dec 2013’
  5.  Break down each of your objectives into actions that will help you reach the intent of the objective. If lack of experience or training was a common theme/objective – Is there training you need to do? Do you need to partner with someone who has experience you are lacking? Again make these actions SMART. ‘Develop partnership with software programmer for app development by Jan 2014’.
  6. You can break down each action into smaller tasks as much as you like, you will get to a very detailed tactical set of actions that will become your day to day To Do list – BUT – the beauty of this  To Do list, is that every single tactical thing you do every day is tied to a bigger action, which is tied to your broader objectives which will help you to reach your overall goal/aim/vision. Your To Do list is no longer a bunch of ‘Stuff’, it is made up of a list of tactical actions that enable you to meet your objectives in order to reach your overall goal. I call this a ‘Cascading Plan’ because it starts high level and you keep breaking down the higher level all-encompassing pieces into smaller more manageable pieces.
  7. Make time with yourself at the beginning of each month to assess your progress on your SMART objectives and prioritise what you want to achieve at the end of the month. This is the time to check and see if you are on track, and ‘adjust the course’ if you are trending off track for some reason.
  8. Make time with yourself at the beginning of each week to plan out the tactical actions you will take to meet your monthly goals. Plan that phone call; write the email; set up the meeting with the potential investor. Put all of these actions into your daily calendar so you know how much time you intend to spend on each action and don’t get side-tracked.
  9. Be cognisant of prioritisation and the need to change priorities due to unforeseen circumstances. If something new comes up, assess the priority of it against other actions. Using the simple 4 quadrant urgency/importance tool works well. Re-prioritise based on that assessment – reschedule your de-prioritised actions on your calendar for a later time/date.


     10. Track progress over time and Celebrate achievements!!


Planning is not rocket science, it makes sense to do, and most people yearn to be more organised.  Many of us are more biased to immediate action and plunge in at the deep end resulting in the downward spiral of a To Do list full of ‘Stuff’.

We are probably always going to have a To Do list – but let’s make it matter!!


Add comment


  1. Frankie Naylor Reply September 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Good, sound advice, simple and seems obvious when you read it but easy to veer off track in practice.

    • admin Reply September 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      Hi Frankie, thanks for your comment. Yes it can be hard to keep focused, however, making that plan visible every day in front of you, and taking that short 1/2 hr every week to plan, really does make a difference and begins to form a habit.